Humor, somehow, isn't the first quality that springs to mind when one thinks about Flamenco dancing, yet it was a humorous piece--a witty variant of the "Red Shoes" motif--that provided the first real highlight of a curiously muted evening of Spanish dance at the University of Maryland last night.
"El Zapatero y Las Botas Magicas" was a solo with guitar accompaniment for dancer-choreographer Teodoro Morca. It's a concise fantasy in which the "botas magicas"--magic boots--goad a bored cobbler into a merry, dizzying bout of dancing, only to lose their spell as suddenly and mysteriously as they acquired it. Morca went to town with the mirthful transformations; brief as it was, the dance made a complete little comic playlet.
Morca's troupe--the Morca Dance Theatre--consists of Morca, his wife Isabel, and guitarist Luis Campos. The troupe has toured internationally; since 1975, they've resided in Bellingham, Wash., where the Morcas have established a sizable school and studio.
Their program at Tawes Theatre last night seemed designed to exhibit the range and diversity of Flamenco, and in this it succeeded. First came a couple of works (all the choreography was by Morca) set to warhorses of the classical concert repertoire--Saint-Saens' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," and Bach's D Minor Toccata and Fugue (in a harpsichord rendering). There followed, along with a few guitar solos by Campos, three dramatic pieces on different themes--unhappy love, spiritual penitence and dance fever (the "magic boots" caper). And completing the mixture were a number of traditional Flamenco numbers of varying tempo and character.
In all this, Teodoro Morca was the main attraction. Isabel Morca recedes into the background as a performer of rather limited expressive and technical resources, and Campos seems not more than routinely competent as a guitarist or composer. Teodoro Morca has the proud stance, the labile moods, the sharp heelwork of an accomplished Flamenco artist, along with a distinct presence and projection. In the best of his numbers--his final tempestuous solo, especially--these attributes all worked together to fine effect. Elsewhere the impression was on the drab side--heel sounds were muffled and blurred (perhaps the fault of the floor), and rhythmic currents oddly stilted. Except for the traditional pieces and the comic number, the choreographic inspiration seemed slight. Strangest of all was the relative lack of passion, in a dance genre best known for its fiery transports.
Morca is clearly a dancer of mettle and substance, but the weight of the evening fell too heavily on his shoulders alone to allow for more than intermittent rewards.